Upholding safety and security of international airline transport is the responsibility of the global community. It is on this premise that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was transformed into a specialized agency of the United Nations in 1947. The prime objective of ICAO, then as today, is to develop international civil aviation in a ‘safe and orderly manner’, and its core mandateis to help countries achieve the ‘highest degree of uniformity in civil aviation regulations, standards, procedures and organization’.
Countries around the world, irrespective of their political differences, come together at the ICAO to cooperate and coordinate with each other to improve the efficiency and quality of global air transport and ensure the safety of passengers and cargo everywhere.
Excluding one country or region from participating in the proceedings of ICAO, or not providing them with ready access to the latest aviation regulations and safety procedures, is not only contrary to principal tenants of the organization, but also jeopardizes the safety of global air transport.
It is in this regard that the Minister of Transportation and Communication in the Republic of China (Taiwan), Hochen Tan, released a statement ahead of the 39th Assembly of the ICAO, which is taking place in Montreal, Canada from 27 September to 7October. He urged the international community to support Taiwan’s bid to participate in a professional and constructive manner in the meetings, mechanisms and activities of ICAO.
Taiwan was for the first time invited to participate in ICAO deliberations in 2013 at the 38th session of the ICAO in Montreal. The country’s participation in that meeting was widely welcomed and seen as being consistent with ICAO’s goal of a seamless global network for aviation safety. However, ahead of the 2016 meeting, the current Secretary-General of ICAO Dr. Fang Liu, of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) declined to extend an invitation to Taiwan due to bilateral political disagreements.
An international organization, responsible for the safety and security of millions of airline passengers and cargo, should not be held hostage to the political whims of a temporary bureaucrat, or the bullying tactics of a country, no matter how powerful it perceives itself to be. It is incumbent on the remaining 190 members of the ICAO to raise their voices stridently against this highhandedness by an elected official and protest this blatant violation of a country’s rights to participate in an international forum dedicated to the safety and security of people everywhere.
China, with its new found financial clout, should not be allowed to dictate the membership or the terms under which international organizations should function. Even the United States, which at one time funded a large share of UNESCO’s activities, was not allowed to edict how that UN organization should be run. In 1984, when disparities between US foreign policies and UNESCO goals became untenable, America, followed by the United Kingdom, decided to withdraw from the organization. Despite the departure of its largest donors, UNESCO continued to perform its duties and meet its international obligations for nearly 20 years. In 1997 the UK and in 2003 the US announced their unconditional return to UNESCO.
In 2011, angered at the inclusion of Palestine as a UNESCO member, the US once again withdrew from the international organization and consequently lost its voting rights in 2013. If China has objections to Taiwan’s participation in ICAO, or any other international organization for that matter, then the honorable thing to do is withdraw its own membership. That the ICAO has now been pressurized not to invite Taiwan to its 39th Assembly is a shame on China and on the organization for not standing up to what is right.
Whatever the political differences between Taiwan and the PRC, this should not be allowed to interfere in the efficient functioning of a specialized agency responsible for global air safety. The continued exclusion of Taiwan from ICAO is not just a bilateral issue between that country and the PRC; it has profound implications for the global airline industry, especially for airlines that fly in the Taipei Flight Information Region (FIR).
The Taipei FIR covers nearly 620,000 square kilometers and borders four other FIRs — Fukuoka (Japan), Manila (Philippines), Hong Kong (PRC) and Shanghai (PRC). Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), which is the sole managing authority for the Taipei FIR, reported that in 2015, it provided services to nearly 1.53 million flights carrying over 58 million passengers arriving, departing or transiting Taiwan.
Moreover, Taiwan is located in the busiest section of airspace in East Asia. In 2015, the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport was ranked 11th and sixth in the world in passenger and cargo volumes, respectively, according to the Airports Council International. In the same year, 74 airlines offered services to and from Taiwan, operating scheduled passenger and cargo flights on 301 routes and connecting 135 cities around the world.
Though it has been denied direct access to the ICAO, due to objections by mainland China, the CAA has done a remarkable job over the past four decades. Despite having to rely on indirectly obtained incomplete information, regarding air transport management, safety and security regulations and environmental standards, the CAA has provided top quality service and maintained some of the highest safety standards.
In terms of effort and investment the CAA has surpassed their counterparts in many other countries in striving to meet flight safety and security regulations set by ICAO.
Pointing out that Taiwan is an indispensable part of global aviation, the statement from Minister Tan added that the country shares in the responsibility of safeguarding regional and global aviation safety and is committed to contributing to the development of global aviation and safety standards.
The statement went on to note that since the 39th Assembly would be discussing key issues related to air transport safety, navigation services, security, environmental protection, and economic matters, it was critical for Taiwan to attend the Assembly on a regular basis.
Referring to the fact that Taiwan occupies a critical geographical location and handles large cargo and passenger volumes, the statement said the country’s participation in the ICAO Assembly would not only help realize the regional one sky concept, but also foster the ICAO goal of a safe and seamless sky. This would benefit the aviation industry in the Asia-Pacific region and the world, and serve the interests of all parties.
The statement concluded by noting that as a member of the international community, Taiwan will continue to share its civil aviation experience and expertise with other nations, so as to jointly ensure the safe, orderly, and sustainable development of the international civil aviation industry.